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OUR TAKE: Can the Pope work a Miracle with Big Oil & Big Money?

Some Big Oil and Big Money biggies are meeting with the Pope (biggest Big Religion) next week to talk climate change. Let’s hope they do more than talk. Three years ago Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the subject: “On Care for our Common Home.” The world is in the midst of a transition from fossil fuel based energy to renewable, low-carbon energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro. Prodded by their shareholders, the Oil Majors are beginning to acknowledge that their business cannot continue as usual for very much longer. But these are very big companies that have had things their way for a very long time. Even contemplating the need to change is beyond some of them. Those few who do see the need have a great deal of inertia to overcome. They move, if at all, in baby steps at a snail’s pace. But time is running out for the industry and the inevitability of the Earth’s climate. Bold, immediate actions are needed. Can the Pope spur the powerful men and forces into meaningful action? Frankly, I doubt it. Moral suasion cuts little ice with this crew. Only money talks. It’s the only language they understand. There is an argument His Holiness could make in those terms, one that stresses the inexorability of the transition from high-to low-carbon energy. It is under way and can’t be stopped. Big Oil can slow it down, but delay won’t avoid the inevitable. Demand for petroleum-based products will peak and then decline. The price of oil will fall below the cost to pump, refine, and deliver it. The vast reserves of untapped oil will become worthless, uneconomic to exploit. Coal mines will close, power plants shut down, whole countries go bankrupt like Argentina. Saudi Arabia, thanks to the vision of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has started to diversify and divest, so may escape the same fate. Norway too is beginning to lower its dependence on oil. Other oil-rich states may not be so lucky. Iran, Russia, Japan, the US, all face major disruption as the world wean itself off oil. The Oil Majors could become the Renewable Majors if they were smart and nimble, but on past performance, they’re not. So if Pope Francis can elicit any commitment to decisive action from the attendees at his meeting next week, may God bless him. Maybe there will be a miracle.

 

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